As summer reaches its zenith, Deerpark Forest Ranger, Martin Summers, goes butterfly and moth spotting in the forest and introduces us to some of his favourites.
“One of the joys of summer, here in the forest, is the sight of butterflies flitting through a sunlit glade. And moths, drawn to the lamplight on a summer’s evening, hold their own fascination too. Here is a selection of my favourite moths and butterflies, some quite common and easy to spot, and others more rare. Many can be found here in Deerpark and all can be found across the Forest Holiday locations.
1. Marsh Fritillary – A rare butterfly that is making something of a comeback in damp marshy areas. We don’t have them at Deerpark, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you find them down by the loch at Strathyre. Look for a mosaic of vibrant brown, reds and oranges which fade after a few days and leave a shiny appearance
2. Ringlet – A velvety grey-black butterfly with two tiny circles on each wing. Look out for these quite common butterflies on the woodland rides or tracks, where they will flutter about in shady or damp conditions when other butterflies are inactive.
3. Painted Lady – I’m making the case for one of our visitors here. The Painted Lady is a migrant butterfly that arrives in large numbers from North Africa when conditions are right. During some years they are a familiar sight throughout the summer, anywhere from forest glades to city car parks, but sadly our climate is a little too harsh for them over winter.
What’s the difference between a moth and a butterfly?
- Moths have feathery antennae and butterflies have smooth antennae
- Moths are largely nocturnal, while butterflies prefer sunshine
- Most moths rest with their wings in and most butterflies rest with their wings spread
- Moths are far more diverse – there are approximately 2,500 species of moth in the UK and only 60 species of butterfly
- Moths tend to have a fatter body than butterflies
4. Eyed Hawk Moth – I can’t leave out this magnificent moth. To deter predators it spreads its wings to reveal a very lifelike eye motif. The picture says it all – in fact it had just been scaring off a Great Tit in this photo, intensifying the “eye” colours. Magic.
5. Holly Blue – Sometimes called the churchyard butterfly, this one has 2 broods of caterpillars a year on firstly, spring holly, then ivy in high summer. Black spots on the underside of its distinctive powder-blue wings distinguish this little butterfly from the more abundant Common Blue often seen in the meadows at Keldy. Easy to spot and can be found in woodlands, gardens, meadows and of course churchyards - anywhere their nectar and caterpillar foodplants are thriving.
6. Large Emerald Moth - a jewel of a moth that behaves like a butterfly, keeping its wings spread at rest. Found throughout the UK in woods and heathland, it flies at night and will be attracted to your cabin lights.
7. Humming Bird Hawkmoth – We all saw one of these day fliers on the bush skills event on July 8th. It sticks its very long tongue deep into flowers to feed from Rose Bay Willowherb nectar – and it loves the honeysuckle in your garden. This was a special moment to share with the guests.
How to a create butterfly-friendly garden
It’s all about petrol stations….the flowers in your garden are to butterflies what petrol stations are to cars. They are essentially fuel stops - and luckily for us, some of the most scented, pretty and easy to grow flowers are also the best fuel stops for butterflies. And if you have the caterpillar food plants in your garden, so much the better!
3 steps to butterfly heaven:
Step 1: Plant up an area of nectar-producing wild or garden flowers such as Honeysuckle, Knapweed, Valerian, St. John’s Wort, Angelica and also Buddleia if you are not opposed to it. Sedum houseleeks (Iceplants) are great too.
Step 2: Wait for the sun to shine -the ideal air temperature for butterflies is 18° -30° centigrade; colder weather renders them immobile. Put a log or a stone pile nearby – this will act as a “solar panel” enabling them to warm up and fly longer.
Step 3: Get your deckchair out, sit back and watch the butterflies dance around your garden.
I could continue forever…. we all love butterflies (and I love moths). Their evocation of carefree summers and simpler, more natural times is rooted in the fact that they are crucial indicators of the health of our ecosystems –and sadly, many are in decline. This gives us a very clear message that we need to look after our fragile planet more carefully.
Luckily for us, here in the forest glades and relatively untouched meadows you can still go butterfly spotting to your heart’s content. Every one of our Forest Rangers will be out with guests over the summer, searching for butterflies and moths to record and enjoy. Why not book your cabin during the school summer holidays, the peak time for butterfly and moth activity, and come butterfly spotting with your children.”